Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Top Two Jaw-Dropping Lists

Internet news sites are chock-full of two things: the kind of cheap sensational ads that used to appear in the back of cheap sensational magazines, and lists.  There's at least one such site that features nothing but lists.  They've "contributed" a new word: "listicule" or an article that is structured as a list (or more accurately perhaps, a list that is structured as an article.)

But the form has yielded some gems.  I'm noting two of them, for different reasons.

The first is not really a list per se, but an aggregation.  The New York Times published Donald Trump's Twitter Insults: the Complete List (So Far.)  Since it was last updated on Monday, such categories as "Ted Cruz" have swollen somewhat, but the immense range of targets--plus the repetitive insults--feeds the Trump Response (amused disgust) at first, but winds up in true Trump territory: demagogue scarytown.

The second is the New York Magazine Culture Vulture's The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy.  It turns out to be not really a list of jokes but of comic moments, complete with film and TV clips.  I've gotten only part way through it because it is so thorough, and the clips are too tempting to pass over.  Most such lists are click bait, but this one is bookmark bait.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Memorial

There have so far been three fatal disasters in the US space program, and though separated by decades, they each happened within five days of each other on the calendar year, in late January and early February.

They also represent three of the four parts of a space voyage.  Apollo 1 was running a pre-launch test on January 27, 1967. when fire ignited, killing astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chafee.  The Challenger space shuttle exploded moments after lift-off (pictured above) on January 28, 1986, killing its seven crew members.  And on February 1, 2003, the shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entering Earth's atmosphere after a successful voyage, killing its crew of seven.  There has yet to be a major disaster in the main part of the voyage, in space.

The anniversaries are naturally noted at this time of the year.  This year the media focused on Challenger, since it was the 30th anniversary.  For a few moments on that morning in 1986, the Challenger crew and I were in the air at the same time.  I was a thousand or so miles north, flying into Portland, Maine.  When I disembarked for a speaking engagement, the people who met me had ashen faces.  When they told me the shuttle had exploded, at first I thought they meant the New York to Washington shuttle.  I hadn't known that Challenger was going to be launched that day (it had been delayed before). Aboard Challenger was Christa McAuliffe, a teacher in neighboring New Hampshire.  Lots of children watched the launch, and the shuttle disappearing in smoke a minute or so later.

Gus Grissom, one of the astronauts on Apollo 1, was the second American in space, a major contributor to the Gemini program, and slated to be the first human to set foot on the moon.

 I was in high school when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, the next Mercury mission after Grissom.  I was editor of my high school newspaper, and from a magazine I copped a photo of the seven astronauts with Alan Shepard (the first American in space), Grissom and Glenn together at the end,  clipped everybody off except those three, and printed it with a brief celebratory story.  I sent copies of the story to all three.  All three replied in some fashion.  Grissom sent a letter and enclosed the clipping I'd sent.  At first I was taken aback, until I noticed that under each figure in the photo was a signature.  He not only signed it himself, but got Shepard and Glenn to sign it as well.

Each of these disasters had causes both mundane and mysterious.  Apollo 1 had a number of fairly outrageous design flaws that combined to seal the fate of the astronauts, but the actual source of the fire itself was never found.  Columbia's fate was sealed by what current astronaut Mark Kelly describes in his memorial this week as "a pizza box-sized piece of insulating foam" that had flaked off the spacecraft, dooming its re-entry.

The Challenger disaster, attributed to tiny O rings that failed because of the cold during launch (although that's been disputed since), had the most protracted and public evaluation.  I followed it and wrote about it at the time, but until I read this article last week I was unaware that politics may have played a part--President Reagan reputedly wanted to refer to the teacher in space during his State of the Union address, so Challenger was launched despite the engineers who pleaded for a postponement because of the cold.

If there is anything in common in the causes of these disasters, it might be the flaws in communication and decision-making at least as much as technical flaws.  Each catastrophe resulted in better spacecraft and procedures.  But all three were avoidable, and so even as we remember the fine people who were lost, these disasters should haunt the process as it continues.  With the necessary audacity, we need humility.

Trumped

The Iowa caucuses gave some definition to the GOPer field, though in fact it doesn't much matter which candidate emerges--they're all frightening bigots, blowhards and incompetents.  But Trump unexpectedly lost--he very nearly slipped to third place--and although no one else is saying it yet, I believe his failure to debate played a role.  Update: Actually, now Trump is saying it.

Ted Cruz won on organizing Evangelicals, but he is likely to come in no better than third in New Hampshire, and who knows from there. The reaction today is to wonder if the Trump is all trumpery, an image inflated by entertainment value, that may deflate like (in Frank Rich's phrase) a big fat balloon. But it's likely that there are now three viable GOPer candidates and though the order may change (in New Hampshire my guess is Trump, Rubio, Cruz--although a fourth could sneak in somewhere there, i.e. Kasich is popular) that's likely to be the race.

Hillary Clinton escaped Iowa with a very close win, while Bernie Sanders demonstrated both the weaknesses in her candidacy and the future of the Dems, as Eric Levitz argues persuasively in New York magazine online.  This bodes well for those who believe that corporate capitalism as it is currently constructed is unable to effect the changes necessary longterm to address the climate crisis.  As well as Sanders actual key issue, the increasingly debilitating gap between the rich few and the many left behind.

Yet that future is not now, and Hillary is the electable present, the alternative to GOPer apocalypse with one of these dangerous idiots in the White House together with a GOPer House and Senate.  The spectre of Sanders as Nader is too scary to dismiss, though there are a lot of primaries to go.

The scariest possibility broached so far is quoted in the Frank Rich piece, in which her email situation leads to an indictment or special prosecutor, after the Dem convention in the summer.  If there's anything the electorate wants to avoid, it's another Clinton pursued by another special prosecutor.  In which case, welcome to the American apocalypse.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trumped?

Viewed from afar, the Trump debate affair is intriguing, if not actually interesting.  It could be consequential.  If the Fox debate ratings are actually higher (within the realm of possibility), Trump is wounded, perhaps mortally.  The debacle may also signal the beginning of the end for Fox's hegemony, as the spectacle of the lunatic right in blood combat with themselves continues.

If Trump triumphs on the ratings and then in Iowa, it does seem to put the in in inevitable.  But Cruz went on the attack in the day or so between Trump's fascist move of demanding to choose his interviewers--admittedly a common practice for more than 30 years in entertainment "journalism" but new to electing a President. If Cruz continues tonight, Trump can't answer him.

It comes down to how many Iowa caucus voters are put off by Trump refusing to debate his opponents, a violation of an almost sacred practice in this particular ritual of presidential campaigning.

A NY Times story suggests that voter registration figures don't support the idea of a Trump voter surge in Iowa anyway.  (Nor for that matter for Bernie Sanders.)  We'll see.  Only then will there be informed speculation on whether this debate or its ratings made any difference.

Trump is not going to be President, ever.  Nor is Bernie Sanders.  So the possible interest is in what effects their candidacies will have on the campaign and the parties.  Trump sinking Fox may be good enough.  Sanders showing the latent leftward idealism in the electorate and pushing the inequality issue can only help the Democratic party.

Update: The early consensus of those who were paid to watch the GOP debate is that Ted Cruz blew a golden opportunity.  Without Trump, he was the most prominent target for the others, and they went after him effectively, or so many thought.  Contrary to my expectations, Cruz did not go after Trump with any consistency, although he did mention that his absence showed his lack of respect for Iowa voters.  But he wasn't alone in this--Perry Bacon at NBC.com noted that no one attacked Trump, the frontrunner in Iowa, which is inexplicable, unless...Trump designed this whole thing to get Cruz and the others to self-destruct.

Update 1/29:  The overnights are in and the GOPer debate trumped Trump's competing event, by 12.5 million to 2.8 million in viewers.  Trump can trumpet that the ratings are down, which they are from their high points for GOPer debates, but clearly Trump's absence gave the others an opportunity--which, according to the pundits, none of them successfully grasped.  If the debate made any difference, they say, it will likely show up in Iowa by who comes in second.

On the Democratic side, I'm betting that Iowa and New Hampshire split.  In 2008, Barack Obama blew everybody away by convincingly winning in Iowa, and he had a clear lead in New Hampshire.  But contrarian NH voted for Hillary, and that meant a long contest into May.  If Bernie wins the Iowa caucus, the same seems likely to happen in New Hampshire--having voted for Hillary once, they'll do it again.  If Hillary wins Iowa, she will be anointed as the near-certain nominee, and New Hampshire will feel comfortable in voting for their Vermont neighbor, Bernie Sanders.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Republican American Tragedy


Update 1/28: Further evidence of GOP government cynicism: the state gov provided bottled water for state employees in Flint beginning at least a year ago.

The tragedy of Flint illustrates the major features of the current Republican destruction of the American political process.

First, the demi-fascist takeover of cities by the Michigan state government, who appoint an "emergency manager."  Nearly all of the white representatives of the Republican politico-corporate complex rule over minority majority cities,  industrial ruins made more ruinous by racism.

Then the refusal to believe any reality that runs counter to rabid right ideology.  Then the incompetence bred by contempt for government, resulting in political appointees or corporate stooges.  Then the deflection of responsibility to others while the high priced ass-covering goes droning on for years.

Amy Davidson at the New Yorker has the basic story. To save some money, the Flint manager stopped getting water from Lake Huron that had been clean and safe for years, and tapped into the highly polluted local river in Flint.  Not even copious chlorine could sanitize it, and either from gross incompetence, contempt for the non-white non-rich of Flint (Davidson's emphasis) or another attempt to save money--likely some combination of all three--they failed to add an anti-corrosion agent to the water.  It was flowing through lead pipes, and the lead began to corrode and crumble into the water.  The citizens of Flint--including the most vulnerable, growing children--were being poisoned.

And the state government headed by new GOPer darling Rick Snyder insisted it wasn't happening, the water was fine, just a bunch of lazy whiners in Flint, as per GOPer mythology--sorry, GOPer Gospel.

 Meanwhile their supposed environmental people were doing a heckava job trying to support their governor's contention with bad or downright fraudulent testing.  Because polluted lead-infested water is a liberal hoax, like global warming.  Just a lamestream media fantasy.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Flint were getting hit with exorbitant bills to pay for the water that was poisoning their children and possibly killing them.

The regional branch of the federal EPA was not blameless either, and it took citizen agitation and the independent research of a whistle-blowing professor who had previously exposed danger in the DC water system during the GW Bush administration. But eventually even a GOPer darling governor had to face the poisonous reality.  Though some heads rolled, the state investigations illustrate another facet of corrupt GOPer governance: investigation of state actions under GOPer control by GOPer state officials, in this case directed by an attorney general who both defends and investigates the state government he hopes to lead (pronounced "leed") by running for governor in the next election.

Meanwhile, starve-the-government conservative Gov. Snyder is complaining that the federal government isn't giving him enough money to pay for all the damage done as a consequence of his style of non-governance.   Flint is reconnected to the Lake Huron water now, but the pipes may carry lead poison until they are replaced.  Which in Flint may mean never.  It hasn't gotten any less black or poor, after all.

Reality has consequences, and this will for years, not only feeding layers of lawyers and investigators for years, but the illnesses and conditions and stunted growth and disabilities that well may accrue.  Not to mention that it's all going to turn out to be much more expensive, further hobbling the economic future of Flint.  (And let's not forget the folks in  the auto companies and their industrial satellites that polluted those waters and the pols who refused to deal with that reality.)

Yet the GOP is so invested in its increasingly insular and detached from reality gospel that the likelihood that they learn anything from this approaches zero.

It's an American tragedy, different from the Greek.  In classical tragedy, the leader's hubris brings him down.  In American tragedy, the people pay for the leader's hubris, with their lives.  The leader may have to learn to survive on speaking fees and corporate board handouts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Climate Sea Changes

We live on land--so we're obsessed with the impacts of the climate crisis on land areas, or at least the interaction of water, especially sea levels, and land.

But the biggest potential threat to humanity has always been the effects of global heating on the oceans.  We know very little about that.  The oceans are worlds in themselves, as ecosystems and other phenomena inhabit various depths, for instance.

We've known that the oceans--covering 3/4 of the planet--have been absorbing most of the heating--up to 95%.  A new study starts quantifying that:

Gleckler is the lead author of a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change finding that, in the past two decades, ocean heat content has been rising rapidly and that, much more than before, heat is also mixing into the deeper layers of the ocean, rather than remaining near the surface.

The Washington Post story goes on to conclude:

The consequences of upper-ocean warming are well documented. From the bleaching of corals to the potential for more-intense hurricanes, a warmer surface has profound consequences for anything living in the oceans (this is where most sea life is) but also on land. Heating the ocean also raises sea levels, because warm water expands.

The consequences of warming the middle and deepest layers are less clear and less immediate to those of us living at the surface, but they are also sure to be significant. The new study provided a global overview of increasing ocean warming, rather than any specific prediction of regional consequences. But warming the deep ocean could lead to changes in its circulation, Gleckler said.

Ocean circulation is a powerful driver of global climate.  Other weather-makers that begin in the oceans include hurricanes and the big daddy of the day, El Nino.  In an article tracking changes in the oceans over the past generation, Forbes begins by noting new research that concludes: While we can’t say that climate change causes El Nino, the evidence is mounting that the warming of our planet could be intensifying the natural phenomenon, which in turn can lead to some extreme weather events.

What we apparently don't know is the effects on ocean life, which is another existential threat.  We do know humans have been overfishing for decades, and yet another study says it's worse that we thought.  Partly through cynical manipulation of data, the amount of overfishing has been grossly underestimated, and as a consequence the quantity of fish being caught in recent decades has declined more than reported.

This means there is less resilience out there that previously believed, as the consequences of global heating play havoc with sea life.  That's apart from the effects of pollution, of huge dead zones and floating countries of garbage.   Millions of people depend on seafood, and ultimately we all do.  We've felt it locally in the US as species that used to be plentiful have all but disappeared.  As other easy sources of land-based protein become unsustainable (and unhealthy), we're growing more dependent on the oceans.

The effects of global heating on the oceans is still being determined.  On land, the effects are easier to see.  They finally were visible to the economists and others who gathered for the annual World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Just last year there was a book of articles by various economists looking ahead a hundred years.  Few of them even mentioned the climate crisis as influencing the future.  But this year, a survey of 750 experts named climate change disasters as the biggest potential threat to the global economy in 2016.

So what's behind this change?  Nothing particularly has happened, other than the steady acceleration of accumulated disasters, requiring massive spending that rarely enters political discourse.  Maybe it's a psychological change.

Psychology itself is suddenly getting interested in the climate crisis, in the comical way today's psychological establishment does.  So far they think denial has something to do with it (big insight there), although they do come up with some fascinating examples: people so deep in denial that they contradict themselves within minutes.

Nobody wants to believe this is happening.  We all wish it weren't, and we'd all like to hide from it as long as we can.  But at certain point the weight of evidence and argument shifts the conventional wisdom, and what's acceptable, and accepted: a sea change.  This seems to be happening with the climate crisis.  Better late than never, maybe.

P.S./Update: The numbers are in and to no one's surprise, 2015 was the hottest year on record.  The newsworthy evidence though is that it was the HOTTEST year on record.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Honoring MLK with Action

He is revered for his moral campaign against racial segregation, but the Rev. Martin Luther King also led protests for economic justice and living wages, especially in what turned out to be the last part of his life.  It was at the time one of those protests that he was assassinated.

On Martin Luther King Day 2016, Black Lives Matter protested in San Francisco, and several prominent black film artists announced they would boycott the Oscars, protesting the zero nominations for the second year in a row.  But below the radar, so to speak, there were protests at several US airports that were also in the spirit of Martin Luther King.

They were by airport workers protesting low wages, and advocating the $15 an hour federal minimum wage that President Obama has proposed.  The protests were held at 10 or more airports, including Miami, Chicago, Boston (where there were arrests), Newark, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle.

The wealth of a larger number of wealthy is extreme, especially in comparison to MLK's lifetime.  There is perhaps less dire poverty in America than in the 1960s.  But the relentless struggles of a large number of working poor form a scandal of our time.  Masked by economic indicators that usually only indicate how well the rich are doing, this is our prime area of invisible plight.

These protests shine a light. As time goes on without action, they should grow.  Is there any doubt that Martin Luther King would be saying so?  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Rivers




Update 1/18: The Eel did crest slightly above flood stage, and remains there, while the Mad River also overflowed its banks but apparently subsided.  The next dose of rain tomorrow is predicted to be less than the last storm brought, but that could be wildly off according to specific location.  And there are more storms lined up behind that one.

According to Lost Coast Outpost: "We’re at 28.2 inches of precipitation in Eureka since the start of the rain year, in October. That’s nearly 150% ahead of a normal year’s schedule."  Above is LCO reporter Andrew Goff's video of the Eel from the Fernbridge--an amazing sight to those who traverse that bridge and normally see far below them a mostly dry river bed.  The Martin Luther King speech soundtrack is a holiday bonus.

Back when I was driving down to Ferndale for Sunday matinees at the Rep, I crossed the Fernbridge: a long span, high above a wide expanse that was almost always dry.  Maybe a puddle here and there, or even a weak stream, to indicate that this was a river, the Eel.

Tonight the Eel is going to crest a couple of feet higher than flood stage at Fernbridge.  It happens, but it's hard to imagine.  An awful lot of water.

Other rivers hereabouts are at or near flood stage, as the "atmospheric river" (as those madcap meteorologists call it) is bringing El Nino-fed storm after storm.  We've gotten into a pattern of a day-long storm, followed by maybe 12 hours of lull before the next storm sends out its feelers, and comes barging in.

Some bring wind, and the amount of rain is very variable according to location, which can be quite specific.  But this last storm, just tapering off at this hour, carried a lot of rain.  And since places north have been getting rain as well (often more than we have) the rivers are bringing that extra water through.

The storms also are feeding higher tides, which mean more erosion and coastal flooding as well.

Today in northern Humboldt there have been flooding on roads and streets, causing some closings, and in low-lying neighborhoods.  A rain-induced landslide has closed Rt. 299 indefinitely.  Another landslide temporarily closed the four lane 101, our north/south lifeline, and caught unfortunate drivers in the northbound lane around Loleta, just south of Eureka, causing what's described as a bad crash.

And if that wasn't enough, there was an earthquake offshore--in the fatal zone of plates rubbing that someday is going to bring the Really Big One--near Ferndale.  It was at least the third there recently, this one at 3.7, which is weaker than the strongest in the series.

The main difference from my recollection of the last big El Nino winter is that it seems mostly warmer.  This weather pattern is forecast to hold all next week, and quite probably longer than that.  The day or at least hours between bouts of rain help the flood situation, but increasingly less as the ground becomes more saturated and the volume in the rivers and streams continues to be high.  So stay tuned.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

The State of the Union


"Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight. And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon."

"Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."

"But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit." 

"The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage."

"We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now."

"But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered. Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts."

"It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber. For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher...  That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever. We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them."

These are some salient excerpts from President Obama's last State of the Union.  For me it wasn't his best written or delivered speech in the past year or so, but he made strong and coherent arguments, both in support of what he has done and what he believes needs to be done in this "focus on the future."

 The last part of the speech, which focused on how to make American democracy work again, was trenchant and bold, even in stating the problem.  He outlined the causes and consequences, and some practical solutions, like making it easier for more people to vote.

He expressed regret that during his presidency "the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide." Maybe--but not if Lincoln or Roosevelt were black.

 A speech of larger vision about the future might have mesmerized the Twits, distracting them from the zombie behind him who is now the House Speaker, or the color of Michelle's dress.  But probably not.  Part of the problem is the hyped-up partisanship, the inflation of partisan politics (as both ultimate morality and entertainment) over all other aspects of reality.

President Obama ended by trying to undermine this, and talking about the acts of citizenship and community, some extraordinary and the rest just ordinary, by "ordinary people."  The "you'd do the same for me" society.  This aspect of America led him to declare the state of the Union is strong.

Commentators seemed to miss this entirely, looking only for the politics.  And there is probably too much rancor for it to register among those who were actually listening rather than tweeting, texting and surfing.

The dissatisfaction with President Obama as he starts his last year is not entirely unusual--conservatives and much of the media hated Bill Clinton, and liberals were disappointed and embarrassed by him.  But Obama, guilty of being President while black, has less of a margin of built-in forgiveness for imperfection.  And then there's this irrational terror of terrorists to the exclusion of greater and nearer dangers--until Trump deflates and his trumped-up fear mongering is shown to have less appeal than it appears.

But I'm with Jonathan Chiat in a recent column: "In the light of history, the Obama administration is likely to be seen as a triumph. The sour perspective maintained by his supporters in his own time will be forgotten — or, if and when it is revisited, it will seem very weird."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

R.I.P. Rickman and Bowie



Years ago when I realized that many of my favorite movie moments were musical, this moment--from one of my all time favorite movies, "Truly Madly Deeply"-- was near the top of the list.  It's fascinating that it's been rediscovered as a way of honoring and remembering Alan Rickman, whose death was announced today.

It's gratifying especially because Rickman was most famous for playing villains, notably the seemingly evil but in the end noble Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.  "Truly, Madly, Deeply" was one of his few romantic leads, and an offbeat one at that.  It was Anthony Mingella's first film, and he, too died too soon.

Rickman in real life, as many said today, restricted his dark side mostly to the movie roles.  In real life he was a committed and accomplished theatre artist who was known also for kindness and good humor.  He mentored Daniel Radcliffe from the first time he played Harry, and in recent years he did what a true friend does in the theatrical realm--no matter where Radcliffe was performing in a play, Rickman would go to see him.

His long working friendship with Emma Thompson, his stage work with Lindsay Duncan, are all legendary.  He was one of my favorite actors.

Rickman was just a few months older than me.  The death of contemporaries like him and David Bowie (who his wife Iman praised as a real gentleman) stirs so many emotions, including shame at how little I accomplished in comparison, and yet here I still am.  But my admiration and vicarious pride in what they did and the kind of people, the kind of men they were, enhances my life.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Winter Light

Just before sunset, light on the recently bared branches of the linden tree next door.  I took a series of photos in December; this is one. Click it to see the full photo.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

And El Nino Finally Came

Though it has been charged with extreme weather in the US Midwest and South as well as elsewhere in the world, until this week El Nino hadn't hit California.  But it sure has now.

Not up here in the far northern end, yet.  But El Nino has brought southern California, in quick succession and sometimes simultaneously, copious amounts of rain, hail, snow, flooding from rain, waterways and high tides, mudslides, high winds and even at least one tornado.

And though El Nino can't  necessarily be blamed for it, an earthquake.  Moderate and shallow, it was enough to shake loose some landslides on hills that El Nino rain had previously softened.

Up here we've had some rain mixed with sun, but on the whole pretty quiet...so far.  It was predicted that southern California would feel El Nino rains first, but it's strong enough that we'll feel it here before much longer this winter.

So they cried El Nino... and El Nino finally came.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Common Ground, Common Sense in the Land of Guns



What was the significance of President Obama's executive actions on gun safety?  The actions themselves are described in this Washington Post story, and the President summarizes them in the speech embedded above.  But apart from the modest changes possible under current law, it was the speech itself, what it said and how the President said it, that was the most significant.

"Emotional" is the word used most in stories--at CNN, in the Post story, in a valuable WaPost annotated transcript of the speech, in John Cassidy's New Yorker piece.  It's emotion based on urgency and backed by overwhelming reason and evidence. The balancing of rights, the safety measures used for cell phones and aspirin bottles but forbidden for guns, so much of it simple social sanity.  It's so obvious that it's satiric, as in the Borowitz headline: Obama Continues to Stubbornly Link Gun Violence with Guns.

 Cassidy describes the rhythms of the speech, including the tears.  His last paragraphs make the salient point:

The denunciation of the N.R.A., which went unnamed in this part of the speech, seemed to rouse the President and get him back on track for the climax of his speech. The best way to defeat the gun lobby, he insisted, was at the polls. “And, yes, it will be hard and it won’t happen overnight,” he said. “It won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my Presidency. But a lot of things don’t happen overnight. A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African-Americans didn’t happen overnight. L.G.B.T. rights, that was decades’ worth of work. So, just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try.”

Obama was only being realistic about the prospects for further progress. He was also serving notice for those who agree with him. In addition to shedding tears of despair, they will need to shed some tears of defiance."

President Obama seems intent on keeping this issue in public consciousness.  It's likely he'll continue this mission after he leaves office.  The politics of this is similar to climate crisis--follow the money.  The gun lobby--which has gotten more extreme over the years-- has bought the Republican party, and the extremism is self-reinforcing, back and forth.  (What would happen, I wonder, if the gun lobby and the fossil fuel billionaires were on different sides of an issue?  The GOP might implode.)

So politically it's up to 2016 candidates and those who follow.  It may be that incremental judgments at the polls encourage this issue to break into agreement at least on background checks (which are supported by 90% of Americans) or it may implode with other extreme positions when today's GOP implodes.  That could happen any time, soon or not soon at all.  But either way, we'll need to share and maintain that emotional defiance.

It is perhaps clearer on this issue than some others what the fundamental commitment of Barack Obama has always been: to make the case that summons agreement and common ground, but on fundamental matters of importance.  Again, the Borowitz satire makes the point.  In a list of barely imaginary quotes from Republican candidates accusing President Obama of being deluded in linking gun violence to guns: "The former Hewlett-Packard C.E.O. Carly Fiorina said that Obama’s persistent linking of gun violence with guns was “sad but not surprising, from a man who believes that people’s health can be improved by access to health care.”

 And like the Civil Rights movement that is his touchstone, addressing gun violence requires persistence and hope, which is not just an emotion of the moment but itself a commitment.  Maybe we can't get it done right away.  "So just because it's hard, that's no excuse not to try."  Because, eventually, yes--we can.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Climate of 2016

As 2016 begins, has there been a change of climate on the climate crisis?  Scientific American makes a case that there has. "...several activists, scientists and environmental lawyers agree the world is shifting from one doused in denial to one that might take big steps in the right direction."

Increasingly irrefutable science on the subject backed by the obvious changes in weather--both extreme events and longer term heating--are probable reasons: "people are now seeing the impacts that likely arise from climate change in their own backyards. It is no longer a threat relegated to the future and faraway places."

A change in attitude is also prompted by increased confidence in ways of addressing the causes, especially through clean energy:"Not only is the public beginning to accept climate change as a real danger, they’re realizing that fighting it is a viable option.... Cleaner energy sources are surging so much that 2014 marked the first time in 40 years that global carbon dioxide emissions stalled, and even dropped during a time of economic growth. With the tie between economic growth and lower carbon emissions severed, the public has begun to see renewable energy as a viable alternative."

Viable alternatives also suggest that doubting the veracity of fossil fuel mega-corporations or even holding them responsible is not suicidal, and therefore unthinkable.  This article notes the increased support for legal means of holding these companies liable.

The public may also be ready to hear what some have said for decades, now being reported and quantified in more detail: these companies believed the climate crisis was happening, and while protecting themselves, they simultaneously financed most of the denialism that remade the Republican party into their servants.

An investigative report in the Los Angeles Times found:

"As many of the world’s major oil companies — including Exxon, Mobil and Shell — joined a multimillion-dollar industry effort to stave off new regulations to address climate change, they were quietly safeguarding billion-dollar infrastructure projects from rising sea levels, warming temperatures and increasing storm severity."

Funding denialism through coal industry initiated and oil industry supported campaign of lobbying, lies and financial support for politicians who repeated these lies and voted down any attempts to address the climate crisis, warped our political system as it wasted this planet:

"Two recent papers published in the journal Nature Climate Change and in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that the coalition effort helped polarize public discourse on climate change.

“The ramifications of this multiyear effort by these funders are immensely important,” said Justin Farrell, a sociologist at Yale University and author of the studies, which looked at how the industry’s messaging affected the public debate. Their influence explains, he added, why the issue went from being bipartisan to polarizing."

The evidence is now pretty strong that the tide has turned against denialists.  The SA piece cites the Pew survey of 40 nations that showed 78% support for efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  But global support was even more clearly shown by the unanimous declaration of the recent Paris climate summit.

Though congressional Republicans and presidential candidates did their best to scuttle U.S. leadership in Paris, Reuters reports that in a poll taken after the Paris accords: "A majority of U.S. Republicans who had heard of the international climate deal in Paris said they support working with other countries to curb global warming and were willing to take steps to do so...More than half, or 58 percent, of Republicans surveyed said they approved of U.S. efforts to work with other nations to limit global warming..."

But the historic Paris agreement is only a first step.  Sierra Club elder Carl Pope wrote an intriguing prescription for what the US needs to do next in 2016 to implement the intent of Paris, some of which President Obama can do himself or at least begin, in his last year in office.  Pope also agrees with the articles previously cited that holding the fossil fuel corps responsible and accelerating clean energy are important strategies for the coming year.

Addressing the causes of the climate crisis is half the agenda.  The other is addressing the effects.  It's been noted here that a leader in both accepting the realities of the climate crisis and adopting clean energy has been the US military.  Now the US Navy has taken the next step in a new ship, designed to respond to climate crisis-caused emergencies around the world:

 " A modified version of a commercial oil tanker, the base ship boasts vast storage capacity for hauling emergency supplies, a huge flight deck for launching and landing helicopters and other aircraft, and plenty of internal space for people and medical facilities."

The US military already has experience in large-scale disaster operations, and foresees greater need in the future.“As climate change affects the availability of food and water, human migration and competition for natural resources, the [Defense] Department’s unique capability to provide logistical, material and security assistance on a massive scale or in rapid fashion may be called upon with increasing frequency,” then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in a 2014 briefing.

This Reuters article concludes: "Despite politically motivated skepticism among many Americans regarding climate change, the military knows that the planet is getting warmer and more dangerous. It knows it will be spending more time and resources dealing with disasters that climate change has made more frequent and severe."

Laughs in Review


From the New Yorker selection of favorite cartoons of 2015.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year!

     First Night in Pittsburgh

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Obamapost

President Obama did some interesting, provocative and funny interviews towards the end of 2015.  So before the year officially ends here, a few links...

The latest is the funny one, a video experience with Jerry Seinfeld in his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series, via the Washington Post.

From the ridiculous to the often profound, an exchange between writer Marilynne Robinson and Obama that's close to a real dialogue, with the President asking about as many questions as she does. The first part is here at the New York Review of Books, with a link to the full audio.  Here's the second part, both published in November.

Bill Simmons is one of my favorite sports writers, especially about basketball.  He did a fun interview in GQ with President Obama that is more than about sports, as Simmons asks him the kind of questions about the non-political aspects of the job that a lot people might want to ask. (Seinfeld does, too, in the interview above.)

If President Obama feels liberated going into his last year in office, it might help account for the utter clarity of his answers on political topics in interviews lately.  See this Jonathan Chiat column about an interview President Obama did with George Stephanopoulis, with a link to the full interview.

And the transcript and video of a year-end interview with PBS.

This may be the most interesting last year of a presidency in my lifetime, which shouldn't be too surprising, since this has been the most interesting presidency so far.

In other words...we ain't seen nothin yet.

Too Big for the News

Sunshine came softly through my window today.  After a rainy month, we're enjoying a few bright days of almost Camelot weather (to vary the song cues), when it only rains after sundown.

But as 2015 ends, other parts of America and the world haven't been so lucky, with extreme weather climaxing a year of climatic extremes. Some people have been basking in warm weirdness. But lots of people haven't been paying attention to Trump, Cosby, "the Affluenza Teen" or the myriad Kardashians.  They've been too busy dealing with flooding, tornadoes, landslides, a December forest fire in southern California, or thunderstorms of rain, snow and ice.

 A Slate story begins: This year’s holiday season has been full of extreme weather, with weird anomalies from coast to coast—like a script worthy of a Syfy network movie. The week of Christmas was the warmest on record by far for a vast stretch of the eastern United States from Texas to Maine. In Philadelphia, every single day this month has been warmer than normal—if that word even retains meaning during a month like this."

The Washington Post summarizes: "From the top of the world to near the bottom, freakish and unprecedented weather has sent temperatures soaring across the Arctic, whipped the United Kingdom with hurricane-force winds and spawned massive flooding in South America.

The same storm that slammed the southern United States with deadly tornadoes and swamped the Midwest, causing even greater loss of life, continued on to the Arctic. Sub-tropical air pulled there is now sitting over Iceland, and at what should be a deeply sub-zero North Pole, temperatures on Wednesday appeared to reach the melting point — more than 50 degrees above normal. That was warmer than Chicago."

Slate adds: At least 68 tornadoes were reported in 15 states from California to the Carolinas from Dec. 21 to Monday, the longest streak on record of December days with a tornado...One tornado in northern Mississippi on Wednesday was so strong it ripped the carpet off the floor after destroying a home. A series of tornadoes also struck Northern Texas the day after Christmas, many at night, creating horrific devastation. The worst one seems to have occurred in Garland, Texas; it was the deadliest tornado in the Dallas area—for any month—in nearly 90 years. Meteorologist Bob Henson notes that 2015 is the first year since 1875, when records began, that there have been more tornado-related deaths in December than in the entire rest of the year combined."

While hot winds swirled in parts of Texas, in another part it snowed. Areas of South America experienced some of the worst flooding in 50 years. Australia had a record heat wave.  There are deaths and devastation associated with many of these events, especially tornadoes and flooding.

There's even worse on the way. Iceland faces a rare "bomb cyclone"--one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the North Atlantic.  Heavy snows and rain in the upper Midwest swelled the Mississippi and other rivers, and the Midwestern flooding isn't over, it may end up being epic.  And all that water keeps rolling south, into the new year.

El Nino is fingered as the cause for some (but not all) of this, and that phenomenon is only starting to influence weather in many areas, including here.  NASA issued a warning Wednesday that this El Nino is very large, and is likely to cause weather chaos and damage to match or exceed any previously attributed to an El Nino year.

Some of the extreme weather however is not caused directly by El Nino but seems to be part of longer global heating patterns, such as the unusual rainfall in England, and the North Atlantic storm.  Slate:

"Unlike other recent episodes of extreme weather around the planet, this storm is probably not related to El Niño, which has limited influence in Europe. The storm will be strengthening over the exact spot that North Atlantic temperatures have been cooling over recent years, an effect that scientists have linked to a slowdown of the basin’s circulation triggered in part by melting sea ice—the same scenario that was highly dramatized in the movie The Day After Tomorrow. This year, there’s been a notable increase in the sharp contrast between this cold patch and record warm ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, an effect that leads to stronger ocean storms—like this one."

But while both are clearly involved, attempts to quantify the relative causal contributions of El Nino and global heating are premature.  I read one climate expert (I think it was in an early version of the Post story that has since disappeared) who observed that we've never had a strong El Nino with climate change from global heating this advanced.  We can expected the unprecedented.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas in the Land of Guns

On Christmas Day 2015, 27 Americans were shot and killed by other people.  Sixty-three more were shot by others and were wounded but did not immediately die. (The total doesn't include people who shot themselves.)

Two of these bloody Christmas events involved four or more victims--and are therefore classified as mass shootings.  That made Christmas slightly unusual.  On the average, there was roughly one mass shooting a day in 2015.

Exactly none of these incidents was classified as an act of terrorism, perpetrated or inspired by foreigners.

As the Washington Post points out, the number of people killed by guns in the U.S. on Christmas is about equal to the number killed by guns in England, or even in the vastness of Australia, in an entire year.  It is equal to the annual deaths by gun in "Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Iceland, combined."

Some of the victims of Christmas gun violence were children. On Wednesday, Arne Duncan gave a speech marking the end of his seven year tenure as Secretary of Education in the Obama administration.  Though he had accomplishments to describe, his speech was characterized as angry and sorrowful.

Because children of America are at such risk of being killed or wounded by guns. Because Congress refuses to enact the most basic gun safety laws.  Children can't learn if they're dead, or if students live in fear of gun violence, as so many do."A majority of young men of color don’t think they're going to live past 23," he said. "What does that compel us to do?"

Hey Kids, Top This!



Aretha Franklin at Kennedy Center honors last month for Carole King, seen urging her on from the balcony, next to fellow honoree George Lucas.  President Obama and Michelle are enjoying it, too.  But why is anyone surprised Aretha's voice is still great at age 73?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Light Awakens

I once had the privilege of participating in an authentic winter Solstice ceremony of a central American Indian tribe.  Like most such ceremonies (at least these days), parts of it were improvised to deal with circumstances.  But the spirit was there, and we sang a song that had been sung on the Solstice for untold generations.

The Solstice is still celebrated in the Yalda festival in Iran, honoring Mithra, angel of light, and in China's Dōngzhì festival, marking the time when winter's darkness begins to give way to light. Hindu devotees worship the sun god on Makar Sankranti. Many Christmas traditions have their roots in Solstice celebrations, like the Scandinavian Juul--or Yule--in honor of the sun's return, or the Druid tradition of using mistletoe in their rites.  Like almost all Christian holidays, its appearance at the general time of ancient--even primordial--moments of awe and recogniton of the mysteries of existence, is not even close to coincidental.

It is perhaps the most paradoxical moment to celebrate.  We see it as the official first day of winter, promising months of dark and dreary skies, cold and inconvenient onslaughts of water vapor in its various forms.  Yet as the shortest day of the year, it marks the lengthening of days to come.  The ceremony in which I participated likened winter to the Earth's pregnancy, of unseen growth in the guise of slumber.

Meanwhile here on the North Coast, we're experiencing a rainy December.  We've beat the average even before yesterday's substantial rain and today's heavy showers, all before the week--between Christmas and New Years--that in the past often brought some of the heaviest rains of the winter (accompanied by a nice long power failure.)  Rivers are near flood stage, some creeks have flooded.

In itself this doesn't mean a lot--even in the drought years we've had one month each winter with decent rain, and several really dry ones.  But this winter we were expecting rain--just not so early.  El Nino, they say, hasn't kicked in yet here.

A week or so ago, FEMA saw seen the strength of the oncoming El Nino, and was counseling California to get prepared.

The problems that have already hit Washington (including Seattle) and Oregon (including Portland) from strong pre-El Nino storms may well be in our future: high tides and flooding, river and stream flooding, landslides.

The drought has made flooding (less porous soil) and landslides (forest fires) a bigger problem.  In the last big El Nino here, several small towns were virtually wiped out by a combination of landslides and flooding, which environmental activists blamed largely on the aggressive logging of hillsides and blocking of streams by the notorious Maxam, the last but huge gasp of the predatory timber industry here.

That 1997-8 El Nino caused significant damage in 40 counties of California, and resulted in 17 deaths.  Humboldt officials are telling people to be prepared.  They are working on direct wireless notification of imminent flooding for people who might be affected.  Downed trees and power lines are likely to happen with more than normal frequency.

Heavy rains were unusual since I'v been here until recent years, when rain was less frequent but more violent.  The exceptions were the late winters of the 96-98 El Nino period.  So far the rains have at times been steady, with what might be called downpours.  But not like that....yet.

So the immediate future is likely not filled with light.  Yet that is what is celebrated today--the return of light.  Even though the word "solstice" refers to the sun "standing still."  It celebrates something else as well, I think: the human predilection for the future.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cleaning Up December Bookmarks: Broken Secret Service, New Russian Nuke and Disappearing American Middle Class

Here are some stories I bookmarked/followed this month that I haven't written about yet...

Land of Guns: The Supreme Court made headlines with something it didn't do--it did not take up a case sent to it that concerned local regulations of firearms, leaving in place such a regulation.

That opened a door and Connecticut quickly walked through it.  Near the third year anniversary of the Sandy Hook gun massacre in one of its towns, the state banned gun sales to individuals on terrorist watch lists.  This is after Congress again refused to ban such sales federally to individuals on the no-fly list.  Other states were considering their own bans.

Danger to the President: A story that should have made more headlines was a scathing report on a broken Secret Service.  It notes several examples in which unscreened individuals were permitted near President Obama, including an armed man with an arrest record who shared an elevator ride.

With high attrition and very low morale, the Secret Service is a scandal and a danger, as noted by a Republican Congressman: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Oversight Committee, said the report should spur further action by the Obama administration. “The situation is getting worse not better,” he said. “The president is in jeopardy, and he better personally get involved in fixing this.”

 Republicans share the blame since their Congress cut Secret Service funding in 2011 more severely than ever before.  But it's more than the GOPers wet dream self-fulfilling prophesy of a federal agency doing badly after they decimated it with budget cuts.  It's a cultural problem that goes back at least to hungover agents guarding President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  And by the way, terrorists read the news.

Native Lives Matter: One of the numerically smaller "minorities" seldom makes headlines, but problems among the First Americans remain.  In Canada, the new Trudeau government has launched an investigation into murders of aboriginal women, revealing horrifying statistics.  In the US, the ability of tribes to police their own lands is under threat, along with their sovereignty.

As for the related issue of sports teams names that insult Native Americans, the relentless move away from them gained a powerful corporate supporter in Addidas, that pledged financial support to schools that dump their offensive names and mascots.

Two Nations: The so-called "income inequality" divide deepened this year, and for the first time in generations, there is no middle class majority in America.  The rich are getting richer, and thanks in part to rising prices that inevitably follow (despite the nonsensical official inflation rate) everyone else is getting poorer.

There is not a one-to-one correspondence with the two nations of rich and the rest to our deep bipolar political divide, but there is clearly a political effect in one group: less educated white working class/ low middle class men, particularly older, particularly in the South and the rustbelt, but also scattered nearly everywhere in the US they can still afford to live.

 As a category (though with exceptions--since in many respects I fit this bill) they form the solid base for Trumpism and the general rabid right fanaticism that is the official GOP stance.

Exploiting insecurity and shrinking opportunities and income by blaming "foreigners" especially of other races is a time-tested tactic of Republican elites, though it appears to have gotten beyond their control.

The plight of this group however was emphasized by new statistics that show it is the only category of Americans to show a decline in life expectancy.  Suicide and drug abuse appear to be chief causes.  One analyst (quoted in this analysis by Paul Krugman) theorized it's because they have lost the narrative of their lives.

Well, that's a simplistic way to put it, but it hints at the situation.  The nature of American divisions in class and geography inspired yet another map with cute names for the divisions--income, racial and therefore cultural and political--that befuddle attempts to figure out just what is happening to this dangerously disunited United States.

The federal government is not blameless in this disenchantment, especially among the white working class, according to this thoughtful article.  Though the situation is also rife with paradox and double binds.

As for the income inequality issue itself, Bernie Sanders continues to talk about it, but thanks to terrorist attacks (even though most terrorist incidents in the US since 2004 have been by right wing zealots) and the general xenophobic tenor fueled by GOPer candidates, it hasn't emerged yet as a big campaign issue.

But when it was a hotter topic, there was this guy who decides to raise the minimum wage in his company to $70 grand a year.  It made a nice Twitter-type splash.  Then somebody did a follow-up.  How's that company doing now, after that rash deed?  Well, pretty damn good actually.

Obesity in America: A stroll through a shopping mall this season should provide graphic support to the reality that, compared to a generation or two ago, there are not only more Americans, they each take up more space.     One new study suggests that increasing obesity in children may be related not only to Big Gulps but too many antibiotics.   There are, at least statistically, other factors besides high calorie food.

Another public health issue continues to be GMO crops.  While often cited as an anti-science stance, the concern is not so much over the crops themselves as the herbicides used to make them viable--a demonstrable health problem.

No Education Left Behind:  Few things have been as damaging to American public schools than the so-called No Child Left Behind mandates.  Here in CA they decimated arts programs among others, so that high school graduates are unprepared for entire areas of college.  They decimated social studies and civics education, which one writer links to the rise in domestic terrorism.  Well, finally it's on the decline with the new federal Education law, easing test mandates and increasing state control.

It's Not Your Grandad's Nuclear War:  New threats like the latest permutations of terrorism get the attention and focus fears, but bad old fashioned nuclear war is still a much bigger threat.

Russia's bombing campaign of Syria is pretty blatantly a low-risk but live testing ground of their latest weapon systems, developed under Putin to replace the Soviet-era arsensal.  Putin has not been shy about both developing new nuclear weapons and threatening to use them.  Under the news radar this month, Russia inadvertently revealed their very powerful new nuclear torpedo, which is remarkably dangerous not only for its yield but its ability to operate independently. They can also detonate offshore and create huge tsunami tidal waves that themselves can destroy coastal cities.

This at the same time as GOPer candidates bluster includes advocating actions which would lead directly to war with Russia.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

From the Arctic to Miami Beach: Why They Call It Global

We're all connected by cause and consequence.  Some of the consequences will keep coming, due to forces set in motion by the heating caused by greenhouse gases emitted even a generation ago.

The Washington Post:

"For a second straight year, the Arctic is warming faster than any other place in the world...Since the turn of the last century...the Arctic’s air temperature has increased by more than 5 degrees due to global warming. Warmer air and sea temperatures melt ice that in turn expands oceans and causes sea-level rise, which scientists say presents a danger to cities along the entire Atlantic coast, from Miami to Washington to Boston. Walrus and other arctic mammals that give birth on ice sheets are struggling with the change, and fish such as cod and Greenland halibut are swimming north from fishermen and animals that feed on them in pursuit of colder waters."

Five degrees may not sound like much, but this does:

In the Arctic, the age of ice generally defines the region’s health. Older ice is thicker, more resilient and resistant to atmospheric changes, and better at supporting mammals. Younger ice is thin and vulnerable to collapse.

Yet in nearly all Arctic regions, sea ice is decreasing, the report said. In 1985, 85 percent of the region’s ice qualified as old. In March, that fell to 30 percent. “This is the first year that first-year ice dominated the ice cover,” it notes. “Sea ice cover has transformed from a strong, thick pack in the 1980s to a more fragile, thin and younger pack in recent years.”

The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the global average.  Areas of the oceans are also heating faster, as are the world's lakes--including North America's largest, Lake Superior (as seen in the photo above, from the aforelinked Star Tribune.)

Expanding warm water is already upping the sea level and noticeably flooding Miami Beach pretty regularly.  As the Arctic is heating faster, Miami Beach is flooding faster.  It may only be another generation before it--and other parts of Florida, like the Keys (sorry, Mike--enjoy it while you can) are under water.

So it's important to face climate crisis realities now so that we can address the causes and keep the damage to a minimum.  But it is also important to address the effects, long enough in advance to do it right.  Kolbert's piece suggests Miami is going to be a test case, big time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Climate and the Crabs

The Paris agreement is historic, a paradigm shift.  But it isn't a panacea.  (Some of its problems are described in the aforementioned Weather Underground piece, and elsewhere.)  In fact no agreement can make it all better.  Because the climate crisis is here, and will be for a long time.

The effects caused by past greenhouse gases emissions will still happen, and the consequences will pile up as each change affects other elements in specific ecologies.  While we address these effects, we must continue to address the causes so the effects in the farther future don't add up to even greater catastrophe.

For example the climate crisis is here, literally here, in Arcata.  While rising seas will be a near future threat, our weather will be less affected than most other places in the US.  Yet the climate crisis is here now, in a way that few would anticipate, in crabbing season.

Crabs are a big deal here, economically, socially, culturally.  Our collegiate summer baseball team is the Humboldt Crabs.  But suddenly, there is no crabbing.  None at all.  There are ups and downs from season to season.  But nothing like this has happened since records were kept more than a century ago.

Our Dungeness crabs are suddenly poisonous, due to high levels of a neurotoxin caused by unprecedented levels of algae blooms. This neurotoxin can harm humans when ingested.

 The entire season may be lost, though that's yet to be determined.  It's the same problem that's halted crabbing in Oregon and Washington.  This is a multi-billion dollar industry.  For this relatively small place, Humboldt harvests could bring in as much as $30 million in a season.

  The climate crisis, together with El Nino and the mass of near-shore warm water called the Blob, are all implicated.  But it is global heating that may push things over the edge to hotter water--and more algae--for a long time to come.

Update: This problem now apparently also extends to lakes, which are getting warmer and so experts fear the same algae bloom problems.

Officials hold out the hope that crabs will be safe later in the season.  But more evidence emerged last week of the destructive power of the algae-created neurotoxin.  The poison doesn't appear to harm the crabs (although that sounds like a guess).  But tests indicate that it is devastating the brains of sea lions.

A study published in the journal Science shows that increasing numbers of California sea lions are being impaired in various ways, including severe spatial memory loss, which hampers their ability to survive.  Additional effects include devastating harm to the heart and fetus of a pregnant sea lion.

This plus more direct evidence indicates how serious the problem can be for humans and other animals.  This huge algae bloom may transfer poison to other species besides crabs that humans eat.  An entire ecosystem--that includes humans--is being disrupted.

Ecosystems are affected by a number of factors, and global heating can be a force multiplier.  Species affect other species, creating spiraling consequences and feedback loops.  Balances that have taken many centuries to establish can be thrown into chaos.  Plus when global heating becomes a factor, it's all much harder to "fix."  All of this adds up to the climate crisis, and we'd better start understanding it better.